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More than 123,000 people displaced in Gaza Strip, says UN as Israel continues bombardment

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More than 123,000 people displaced in Gaza Strip, says UN as Israel continues bombardment

Smoke rise above buildings during an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. AFP”


Published in Dawn News, on Oct 9th, 2023,  |  | 


More than 123,000 people have been displaced in the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of the conflict between Palestinian fighters and Israel, the United Nations said on Monday.

“Over 123,538 people, have been internally displaced in Gaza, mostly due to fear, protection concerns and the destruction of their homes,” said the UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA.

More than 73,000 are sheltering in schools, OCHA said, some of which have been designated emergency shelters.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes on Gaza since Saturday, when Hamas fighters launched attacks in Israel and fired thousands of rockets at the country.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), said he expected the numbers to rise further.

“There’s electricity in these schools, we provide them with a meal, clean water, psychological support and medical treatment,” he told AFP.

Gaza is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, who have lived under a crippling Israeli blockade imposed after Hamas took power in 2007.

At least seven Palestinians were killed in two Israeli air strikes on two houses in Gaza, according to medics. Israeli planes also carried out dozens of air strikes, many in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Associated Press reported that 19 members of a single family were killed in one such strike.

Israeli strikes on Sunday hit housing blocks, tunnels, a mosque and homes of Hamas officials in Gaza. The region’s health ministry said at least 493 Palestinians, including scores of children, have been killed and 2,751 wounded in air strikes on the blockaded enclave since Saturday.

“The price the Gaza Strip will pay will be a very heavy one that will change reality for generations,” said Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in the town of Ofakim, which suffered casualties and had hostages taken.

Palestinians inspect the destruction around Ahmed Yassin mosque, which was levelled by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City early on October 9, 2023.—Photo by Mohammed Abed / AFP)

 

To that end, Tel Aviv is escalating measures against the Gaza Strip to a “total blockade” including a ban on admitting food and fuel, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said, describing this as part of a battle against “beastly people”.

300,000 reservists called

Chief military spokesperson Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel has drafted a record 300,000 reservists and is “going on the offensive”.

Hagari said control of border villages and towns in which there were Palestinian fighters had been re-established but that isolated clashes continued as some gunmen remained active.

“We are now carrying out searches in all of the communities and clearing the area,” he said in a televised briefing.

Military officials had previously said that their focus was on securing Israel’s side of the border before carrying out any major escalation of the counter-offensive in Gaza.

Hagari said 300,000 reservists have been called up by the military since Saturday, a number suggesting preparations for a possible invasion – though any such plans have not been officially confirmed.

“We have never drafted so many reservists on such a scale,” he said. “We are going on the offensive.”

Hagari confirmed media reports that 700 people had been killed on Israel’s side of the border, including 73 confirmed members of the security forces. He said Israel’s military had killed hundreds of Palestinian gunmen.

Relentless bombardment

Fighter jets, helicopters and artillery struck over 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip overnight, with targets including Hamas and Islamic Jihad command centres and the residence of senior Hamas official Ruhi Mashtaa who allegedly helped direct the infiltration into Israel.

Palestinians inspect damages in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, following a Hamas surprise attack, at Beach refugee camp, in Gaza City, October 9, 2023. — Reuters

 

Oil prices were up more than $3 a barrel in Asian trade on Monday as the violence deepened political uncertainty across the Middle East and raised concerns about supplies from Iran.

Iran is an ally of Hamas and while it congratulated Hamas on the attack, its mission to the United Nations said Tehran was not involved in the attacks.

Any sustained rally in oil prices would act as a tax on consumers and add to global inflationary pressures, which weighed on equities as S&P 500 futures shed 0.7pc and Nasdaq futures lost 0.6pc.

Several international air carriers have suspended flight services with Tel Aviv in light of the Hamas attack, saying they are waiting for conditions to improve before resuming. Beyond blockaded Gaza, Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia exchanged artillery and rocket fire on Sunday, while in Egypt, two Israeli tourists were shot dead along with a guide.

Appeals for restraint came from around the world, though Western nations largely stood by Israel.

The Palestinian foreign ministry denounced what it called a “barbarous campaign of death and destruction” by Israel.

“As an occupying power, Israel has no right or justification to target the defenceless civilian population in Gaza or elsewhere in Palestine,” it said on Sunday.

Palestinians evacuate their homes after Israeli strikes on Gaza City on October 9, 2023. —AFP)

 

In southern Israel, Hamas gunmen were still fighting Israeli security forces after their surprise assault with rocket barrages and bands of gunmen who overran army bases and invaded border towns.

“It’s taking more time than we expected to get things back into a defensive, security posture,” Lt Col Richard Hecht told a briefing with journalists.

Captives

Israel’s military, which faces awkward questions for not thwarting the attack, said it had regained control of most infiltration points along security barriers, killed hundreds of fighters and taken dozens more prisoner.

Tens of thousands of soldiers had been around Gaza, a narrow strip of land that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, and the military was starting to evacuate Israelis around the frontier.

Israel has not released an official toll but its media said at least 700 people were killed in Saturday’s attacks, children among them.

Military spokesperson Daniel Hagari called it “the worst massacre of innocent civilians in Israel’s history”. Several Americans were killed by Hamas attackers, a White House National Security Council spokesperson confirmed. Thailand said 12 of its nationals had been killed and 11 kidnapped.

Palestinian fighters took dozens of hostages to Gaza, including soldiers and civilians, children and the elderly. A second Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad, said it was holding more than 30 of the captives.

About 30 missing Israelis attending a dance party that was attacked by gunmen emerged from hiding on Sunday, Israeli media reported, putting the death toll at the outdoor gathering at 260.

“The cruel reality is Hamas took hostages as an insurance policy against Israeli retaliatory action, particularly a massive ground attack and to trade for Palestinian prisoners,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Biden speaks to Netanyahu

US President Joe Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second straight day on Sunday, saying in a post on the social media platform X that he expressed “my full support for the people of Israel in the face of an unprecedented and appalling assault by Hamas terrorists”.

The United States led Western denunciations of Hamas’ attack, with Biden issuing a warning to Iran and others that this was “not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks”. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern Mediterranean as a show of support to Israel.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem condemned the US announcement as “an actual participation in the aggression against our people”.

The violence may undermine US-backed moves towards normalising relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia — a security realignment that could threaten Palestinian hopes of self-determination and hem in Hamas’ alleged main backer, Iran.

Tehran’s other main regional ally, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, fought a war with Israel in 2006 and said its “guns and rockets” stand with Hamas.

The escalation follows surging violence between Israel and Palestinian fighters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where a Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule, opposed by Hamas.

Conditions in the West Bank have worsened under Netanyahu’s hard-right government, with more Israeli raids and assaults by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages, and the Palestinian Authority called for an emergency Arab League meeting.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the assault would spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem. Gazans have lived under an Israeli-led blockade for 16 years, since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

“How many times have we warned you that the Palestinian people have been living in refugee camps for 75 years, and you refuse to recognise the rights of our people?” Haniyeh said.

The UN appealed for the creation of humanitarian corridors to bring food into Gaza and said at least 70,000 Palestinians in Gaza are seeking shelter in schools it runs.

Austria says it is suspending aid to Palestinians after Hamas attack

Austria is suspending its aid to Palestinians, totalling around 19 million euros ($20 million) for a handful of projects, in response to Hamas’s incursion on Israel, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said.

Neutral Austria’s ruling conservatives have adopted one of the most pro-Israel stances in the European Union in recent years. The Israeli flag has been hoisted above the chancellor’s office and the Foreign Ministry after the shock Hamas offence launched from the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

“The extent of the terror is so horrific … that we cannot go back to business as usual. We will therefore put all payments from Austrian development cooperation on ice for the time being,” Schallenberg told ORF radio in comments confirmed by a spokeswoman, adding the estimate of funds and projects affected.

Schallenberg did not distinguish between Gaza, a Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, and the much larger West Bank, run by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement is a rival to Hamas.

On Sunday, neighbouring Germany debated whether it should stop aid to Palestinians following the Hamas attack, with Development Minister Svenja Schulze of the ruling Social Democrats saying the government had always been careful to check that the money was only used for peaceful ends.

Schallenberg said Austria would assess its projects before deciding how to proceed in consultation with partners within and outside the EU.

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